The mission of the fleet oiler is to operate as a unit of an underway replenishment group, furnishing replenishment of petroleum products to the fleet at sea. Oilers transport bulk petroleum and lubricants from depots to battle group station ships effecting delivery and consolidation underway. In addition, they are capable of delivering petroleum and cargo to combatants and support forces by alongside and vertical replenishment. The number of Navy-manned fleet oilers diminished as more and more Military Sealift Command ships, all civilian manned, assumed responsibilities for supplying ships of the fleet.
A modified version of the AO-22 Cimarron Class, the Astabula was assigned to "at sea" fueling duty, served with the logistic support forces for the fast carrier task forces during World War II. Astabula operated in logistic support of the Pacific Fleet since 1945. As the Korean War settled into a "routine" during 1951, the demands of fuel-hungry jet aircraft ensured that these logistics ships were kept very busy shuttling between the operating forces and rear-area ports. The Caloosahatchee and her sister ship the Canisteo were the two surviving members of the World War II Ashtabula-Class (AO 51), the majority of which units were retired in the 1970s. Some of these vessels were retained until the early 1990s in the National Defense Reserve Fleet prior to disposal and sale by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) for scrapping.
In October 2000, three hundred miles off the coast of Southern California, USS O'Kane (DDG 77) and an international task force of U.S., British and French ships unleashed a torrent of fire against the decommissioned Navy oiler Ashtabula. In six phases of live fire eight harpoons, two standard missiles, three sea skua missiles, four air-dropped bombs and more than 100 rounds of gunnery fire rained down on her, smashing and rending her bulkheads. Eventually, with the assistance of explosives brought to the scene aboard USS Thach, Ashtabula succumbed to the flooding sea and slipped below the waves.
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